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Standard Deduction vs. Itemized Deductions

You can either claim the standard deduction or itemize your deductions -- whichever lowers your tax the most.

Standard deduction

The standard deduction is a fixed dollar amount that reduces the income you’re taxed on. Your standard deduction varies according to your filing status. In 2013, the standard deduction is:

  • For single or married filing separately -- $6,100
  • For married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er) -- $12,200
  • For head of household -- $8,950

Your standard deduction increases if you're blind or age 65 or older. It increases by $1,550 if you're single or head of household and by $1,200 if you’re married or a qualifying widow(er).

About two out of every three returns claim the standard deduction. The standard deduction:

  • Allows you a deduction even if you have no expenses that qualify for claiming itemized deductions
  • Eliminates the need to itemize deductions, like medical expenses and charitable donations
  • Lets you avoid keeping records and receipts of your expenses in case you're audited by the IRS

Itemized deductions

Itemized deductions also reduce your taxable income. Ex: If you're in the 15% tax bracket, every $1,000 in itemized deductions knocks $150 off of your tax bill.

You might benefit from itemizing your deductions on Form 1040, Schedule A if you:

  • Have itemized deductions that total more than the standard deduction you’d receive
  • Had large, uninsured medical and dental expenses
  • Paid mortgage interest and real estate taxes on your home
  • Had large, unreimbursed expenses as an employee
  • Had a large, uninsured casualty (fire, flood, wind) or theft losses
  • Made large contributions to qualified charities
  • Had large, unreimbursed miscellaneous expenses

However, your itemized deductions might total less than your standard deduction. If so, you can still itemize deductions rather than claim the standard deduction. You might want to do this if you'd pay less tax. This can happen if you itemize on your state return and get a larger tax benefit than you would if you claimed the standard deduction on your federal return. 

If your adjusted gross income (AGI) from Form 1040, Line 37 was more than  certain amounts, some of your itemized deductions were limited. For tax year 2013, the limitations apply if your AGI is more than:

  • $305,050 if married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er)
  • $279,650 for head of household
  • $254,200 for a single taxpayer
  • $152,525 if married filing separately

If you'd like to learn more, see Publication 505: Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax.

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